Seaholm Stars, Oak Park Grab Spotlight

By Tom Markowski
Special for Second Half

May 30, 2015

ROCKFORD – Rachel DaDamio has had to race in the shadow of Birmingham Seaholm teammate Audrey Belf throughout her high school career.

That’s OK. They’re friends. And don’t worry about DaDamio. She found her time to shine through the raindrops at the Lower Peninsula Division 1 Track and Field Final at Rockford High School on Saturday.

DaDamio took her turn in the spotlight as she won the 1,600 run, running first most of the way, with a time of 4:46.05

“It feels so good,” DaDamio said. “I’m used to running in this weather. I run cross country. I really didn’t have a race plan today. No one really wanted to take the lead, so I did. I felt really strong. If they were going catch me, I was going to run my best. I hardly ever take the (early) lead. I run better form behind.

Belf successfully defended her title in the 3,200-meter run with a time of 10:26.58, won the last two LP Division 1 cross country titles and will be attending Georgetown University in the fall. She also was named high school female Athlete of the Year by the Detroit Athletic Club, so the spotlight has shown brightly on her the last few seasons.

As she noted, DaDamio also was part of the Seaholm cross country team, one of the best in the Midwest recently, and she understands the attention Belf has received.

 “Audrey and I are such good friends. Just being a part of this team … we’ve had such strong distance teams at Seaholm. It’s so cool. My teammates are my best friends.”

DaDamio will make new friends in the fall as she’ll attend and run for University of Notre Dame.

Some who gathered around DaDamio after her victory joked she could have gone to Notre Dame even without her success in track. She graduated with a 4.0 grade-point average and never received a B for a grade, or an A-minus.  

Belf said running for a program like Seaholm was “so surreal to run with my teammates.

“Rachel ran a great race. I was watching and pulling for her all the way.” 

Oak Park finished with 93 points, one more than last year, to win its second consecutive team title. East Kentwood was second with 54.5 points, Northville was next with 43, Rockford placed fourth with 42 points and Ann Arbor Pioneer was fifth with 37.

Oak Park senior Ersula Farrow won the 800 run last year when she attended Grosse Pointe South, and again this year with a time of 2:08.43. The Clemson University recruit also ran on the winning 1,600 and 3,200 relay teams.

Farrow finished among the top five in the 800 all four years of high school.

“I was going for the record,” Farrow said of the 800 run. “I knew it would be hard. I’m satisfied.”

Brianna Holloway won the 300 hurdles with a time of 43.5 to also help Oak Park’s title effort. 

One of the surprise winners was Sammy Cuneo of Rockford in the 400 dash. Cuneo, who will attend Center Michigan University in the fall, just began competing in the event this season. And it wasn’t her idea.

“This was like my fifth time (in the 400),” Cuneo said. “I was running the 100 and the 200 but my coach said I was tough and that I could do this. I said, yeah. I’ll prove I’m a 100 runner.”

Good thing Cuneo listened to her coach.

Cuneo entered the finals with the top time (55.44) in all LP Division 1 Regionals, but had to pass defending MHSAA champion Anna Jefferson of Oak Park in the straightaway.

Cuneo also placed second in the 200.

Junior Sekayi Bracey of East Kentwood placed first in three events, the 100 (11.83), 200 (24.62) and the long jump (17 feet, 5¾ inches). They were Bracey’s third consecutive titles in the 100 and the 200.

“I was very tired,” Bracey said after the 200, her third of three individual events. “I was tight. I just got done with the long jump. So that’s a lot.”

 Bracey is undefeated in this state in the 100 and 200. Her only losses have come in national events during the high school offseason.

“I put a lot of pressure on myself,” she said. “I’ve got to learn to relax and just run. I do better that way.”

Events like the 200, 3,200 and the 1,600 relay were especially difficult for the athletes. Even though the rain let up, the wind picked up and the temperatures dropped.

“I didn’t think about it at all,” Farrow said. “I had a feeling it would be hard. I just had to do my best. I’m not sure about my times, but it was tough. The wind is the worst.”

Click for full results.

PHOTOS: (Top) Seaholm's Rachel DaDamio leads the pack during her title-winning 1,600 run Saturday. (Middle) Oak Park won a pair of relays en route to repeating as LP Division 1 champion. (Click to see more from Photos by John Brabbs.)

Gaylord Record-Setter Embracing Challenges As Championship Season Approaches

By Tom Spencer
Special for

May 3, 2024

Katie Berkshire has her eyes on the prize today.

Northern Lower PeninsulaAnd she’ll have her eyes on another prize Saturday. After that she’ll move on to more conquests yet this track season.

That pattern will be repeated for the next two years on the track and along the cross country course.

Berkshire, a sophomore at Gaylord High School, is already a long-distance record-holder and a regular feature at the Lower Peninsula Division 2 Final. Today, she is throwing out the welcome mat to her opponents as Gaylord hosts its annual Blue Devil Classic.

She is welcoming this weekend’s competition because she knows fast races help her get better every day. Winning, although it happens often, is not her top priority. Putting in the work and getting better is what matters most, according to Gaylord girls track & field and cross country coach Lindsey Yates.

“She’s more than just a fast runner,” acknowledged Yates. “She knows she has to put the work in to get good results, and she’s always wanting more.

“The proof is in the pudding in what she does,” Yates continued. “She is a special — very special — athlete and young woman.”

Berkshire started this season by breaking the school record in the 3,200 at Gaylord’s first meet. She’s hoping to break the school’s 1,600 record yet this spring. And, she’s hoping to add to her collection of Regional and conference titles this month.

Higher finishes at the Division 2 Final on June 2 also are on the mind of the running sensation, who had a strong showing as a freshman finishing third in the 3,200 and 10th in the 1,600.

Track is known as an individual sport, but Berkshire looks at it more as a team sport with friendly competition.

Running, which started in Gaylord Elementary’s “Mileage Club” for Berkshire, wouldn’t be the same without teammates.

“Cross country and track are individual sports, but the team is a huge part – without the team it wouldn’t be the same at all,” Berkshire said. “We have all put in so much effort, and we deserve to go out and race and show what we can do.”

Berkshire, seated, confers with the Blue Devils coaches. “She’s a gift to the team,” Yates added. “It is an individual sport, but she has the whole team with her and she rallies for the team and the team rallies for her – it’s a family.”

Gaylord has had its share of individual Finals champions in the past under boys coach Matthew Warren, who Yates notes has played an integral part in Berkshire’s training.  But Berkshire is a one-of-a-kind runner for Yates, who has served as both the girls track and girls and boys cross country head coach the past two years at Gaylord.

“I have not seen anything as fine-tuned as Katie Berkshire, and it’s a breath of fresh air,” said Yates, who assisted both Blue Devils programs a few years before taking over. “The intrinsic desire for her is amazing.”

Running cross country and track brings endless challenges for Berkshire to conquer. The results, she notes, come from the training.

“Running shows me any challenge that comes my way I can just overcome,” Berkshire said. “It shows me if I have a goal in my mind, I can accomplish it if I work hard and put in the effort.”

During the fall, Berkshire won eight of her 12 cross country races including the Big North Conference meet and Regional. She’s already qualified for three Division 2 Finals across the two sports and is likely going to add a fourth Finals next month at Hamilton High School.

Before that, Berkshire is going after another Big North title and a Regional championship. Competitions, like those ahead always bring out her best; the conference includes Division 1 opponents.

“I enjoy running against even girls that are faster than me because they always push me to be better and they are there obviously to race and try their best,” Berkshire said. “They are an influence to me that I can get there one day and I can maybe even beat them the next season.”

This year she has hopes of running a sub-5-minute 1,600 to capture the school record; her best in the race is 5:11. She takes on both distance races regularly and also is a regular in relays. In Wednesday’s dual meet at Alpena, she set two personal bests running a 2:25.60 in the 800 and 1:05.71 in the 400.

Berkshire’s favorite event by far is the 3,200, as she likes finding the right pace and rhythm to handle eight laps.

“Most people would think I am crazy for that,” she said of her pick for favorite. “It’s the longest race on the track, and it feels the best for me.”

Yates says Berkshire has yet to run her best 3,200 of the season. The conference, Regional and Final should bring out the best in Berkshire, she noted.

“She’s amazing, and setting the record isn’t good enough for her. She wants to do it again,” Yates said. “She also wants the mile record, and she’s hungry for it.”

Tom SpencerTom Spencer is a longtime MHSAA-registered basketball and soccer official, and former softball and baseball official, and he also has coached in the northern Lower Peninsula area. He previously has written for the Saginaw News, Bay County Sports Page and Midland Daily News. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Gaylord’s Katie Berkshire readies for a relay Wednesday against Alpena. (Middle) Berkshire, seated, confers with the Blue Devils coaches. (Photos provided by the Gaylord girls track & field program.)